For the second time this month, the Vikings undressed Thursday in stunned silence after letting the Detroit Lions pull off an improbable comeback. The latest loss, a 16-13 defeat, ruined their Thanksgiving Day at Ford Field.
“Yeah, it doesn’t feel good,” receiver Adam Thielen said 15 minutes after Sam Bradford’s devastating last-minute interception. “Hopefully we can play them again in the playoffs and just get another try at them.”
Playoffs? You kidding me? No. It is still well within the realm of possibilities.
But with the loss, the Vikings, once the NFL’s last unbeaten team, no longer have full control over whether they will make the playoffs. There are theoretical scenarios in which the Vikings could win out and still not get in.
“Even when we were in the playoff mix, we didn’t ever talk about it,” coach Mike Zimmer said Friday afternoon. “We just talked about the next game, and that’s all we’re going to continue to talk about — is the next game coming up and the next game after that and the next game after that. We’ll find out how we want to fight and how we’re going to go about our business.”
<script src="//player.performgroup.com/eplayer.js#62440be202250d2b6b11aaed5d.tuimhyjvcxwv16r7e53ta7vvh$videoid=1xnbcrc144c6f1ukw220n6p1s4" async></script>The Vikings (6-5) now trail the Lions (7-4) by a game in the standings. Throw in the head-to-head tiebreaker after losing to Detroit twice and the Lions now have a commanding lead in the NFC North with five games left to play.
But there is a lot of football left to be played between now and Jan. 1.
“Thankfully for us, everything is still in front of us,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said after Thursday’s loss. “We’re going to need some help now, but everything is still in front of us. If we win, good things will happen.”
According to ESPN-owned website FiveThirtyEight, the Vikings still have a 51 percent chance of making the playoffs but only a 25 percent chance of repeating as NFC North champions. The Lions, after winning on Thursday, have a 69 percent chance of winning the division in their projections.
When it comes to jockeying for one of the NFC’s two wild-card spots, the Vikings trail both the 7-3 New York Giants and the 6-4-1 Washington Redskins. The Vikings beat the Giants this season but lost to the Redskins.
The Philadelphia Eagles, who also beat the Vikings this season, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at 5-5 heading into this weekend’s slate of games.
The Arizona Cardinals, the only team the Vikings have defeated since Oct. 9, are also still on the fringes of the NFC’s playoff picture with a 4-5-1 record.
Realistically speaking, the Vikings, who have lost five of their past six games, likely need to win at least three of their final five to make the playoffs.
“You’ve got to be positive. You know, not all is lost,” left guard Alex Boone said. “We’re still in this hunt. We’ve got to come back strong. We’ve got to stick together. Everyone’s got to believe that we’re going to be OK.”
Up next are the Dallas Cowboys, who haven’t lost since Week 1. Then the Vikings travel to Jacksonville to play the lowly Jaguars. A trip to Green Bay to play the reeling Packers is sandwiched between home games against the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears, who beat the Vikings on Halloween.
The Cowboys are 10-1. The combined record of the other teams is 13-28.
“The reality is it’s there for the taking for us,” Greenway said. “We have to continue to try to do what we’re doing and make plays at the end to win.”
The Vikings did not do that in Thursday’s loss, ceding control to the Lions.
The offense struggled on third down, and Bradford got fooled into throwing a bad interception on what was arguably his most important throw of the season. Zimmer’s defense faltered when it mattered most, letting the Lions advance from inside their 2-yard line into range for the tying kick.
So now, with December looming, the Vikings are on the outside looking in.
“There’s still a lot of football left, so we’re going to keep going,” Zimmer said.